I finally got around to beginning the PS3 version of Catherine for a couple hours last night, and I have to say I’m impressed. Chances are if you have been following the game’s production at all, you already bought it, but it’s been a long time since I wrote one of my mini reviews, so here we go. BTW, I highly recommend the game.
– The visuals are, simply, beautiful. The in game character models and environments are the best instance of anime-style cell shading I’ve seen this side of Valkyria Chronicals. The animated (read: anime) cut scenes are equally attractive. The character designs are very likeable as well.
– They designers (character and environment) nailed the tone and atmosphere the creators where going for with this title. The gloomy nature of the story is really felt through the visuals. The same can be said about the (English) voice acting and the music. Both are impressive, and fit the game well.
– So far, the story and characters seem real, identifiable, and refreshingly mature. Vincent, the main character who is far from a hero, reminds me of myself in some ways (minus the attractive women around him, unfortunately), which makes playing as him even more believable to me. Better yet, the game encourages you to get him more drunk at the bar so that you can move around faster in the nightmare (action) parts of the game.
– There are questions you answer at the end of every act, as well as dialog choices of things you say to other characters in the story mode. You can also choose different ways to respond to text messages (which, so far for me, only come from Katherine). The game encourages you to make these decisions in tune with how you honestly feel, and you will get to see how it affects the story. It is very interesting, but I fear that it will just turn out to be a good/bad ending sort of deal, not having as dramatic of an effect as promised. Either way, it is enjoyable and helps you feel immersed in the story.
– Like me, most players are probably far more interested in the story and visuals of Catherine, but I was surprised to find that -thus far- I really enjoy the action/puzzle game play as well. I played on the “Normal” difficulty, because I refuse to play any game on easy. The action is certainly challenging, and you will get annoyed and die a lot. But they give you more than enough continues and most levels have a check point midway-ish you can restart from. The “boss” levels, are particularly difficult, brutal even. Fortunately, for those that are not up to the challenge, there is an easy mode that describes itself as for those that only want to enjoy the story.
– This is not “one of those games”. You know what I am talking about. Sexy visuals are a major theme in the game, and there are some risqué scenes for sure. The box art and nifty art book that come with the standard version of the game do not help it’s cause either. Basically, what I’m getting at here is that while it certainly is not, your friends and family that know nothing about the game are likely to conclude you’re playing one of those weird, pervy anime porn games. Even I was too self-conscious to walk into an actual store and buy the game, I got my copy online…
– The controls for the action mode can be a little dodgy and difficult to master at first, which of course leads to many frustrating mistakes and deaths. Hang in there though, you’ll get used to the controls.
– Horror, as a genre or state of mind, is extremely difficult to pull off in anime and manga. Suspense, psychological and emotional unease, sure no problem, but horror is hard to convey in this art form. This is not a bash against the game, which describes itself as horror, but just don’t expect Silent Hill levels of terror from Catherine.
– Regrettably, this is a glaring flaw in the game. To put it nicely, that audio levels for the vocal tracks are fucked up. The voice work is quiet and somewhat difficult to hear during the action parts as well as the story parts that use the in game resources (graphics). Sometimes background noises (especially in the action parts) make matters worse. It is easy enough to turn up the volume on your TV and that fixes that. The problem is that the audio for the anime cut scenes is quite loud. So you may have turned up the volume to hear what is going on in one scene better, only to have it blasting at you in the next. There are no in game options to adjust the various volume levels either. This is not a deal-breaker, but is very frustrating in a game that is so focused on story.
– A minor annoyance, but there is always a small watermark on the upper left hand corner of the screen during the story mode. This is supposed to be there because, as you find out at the beginning of the game, you are watching this all on some fictional TV show (which in itself is kind of a lame idea). It can be a little distracting, and cannot be disabled.